Lesser-known varietals worth exploring
France has always had a prominent place in the wine listings of the NLC. In the last few decades it has had to share space with very good wines from many other countries, so its percentage has declined considerably.
It nonetheless remains a strong supplier to local wine-lovers, especially in the fine wine end of the market.
With all these French wines available, though, there is still the opportunity to find something fresh and interesting from this great wine country.
A couple of new listings caught my eye this summer.
The first is from the Loire region.
As one of the more northerly of the country’s wine producing areas, it tends to focus on white wines, with some elegant but light red wines, sparkling, and sweet wines to round out the offerings.
Since the current trend among wine drinkers is toward big red wines, this region often does not get the attention it deserves.
Loire has a considerable diversity in grape varieties and seems to be a mixing ground for varieties from the Atlantic coast: Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc and Burgundian varieties such as Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chardonnay.
One particularly important variety is Chenin Blanc, which appears to be native to the Loire region.
The middle Loire sub-regions of Saumur, Vouvray, Anjou and nearby areas are home to the main Chenin Blanc vineyards.
Chenin Blanc has high natural acidity which allows it to be used successfully in everything from dry wines to sparkling and dessert wines.
The usual aromas associated with the grape include quince, apples, honey and floral notes.
When produced as a dessert wine — especially with the beneficial effect of noble rot — it shows honeyed, unctuous complexity that is a rival for Sauternes.
The Louis Roche Saumur Blanc 2011 (NLC $16.48) has an elegant aroma which combines a light floral touch with pleasant ripe pear.
Moderate acidity and medium body with good finish make this an attractive wine on its own or with appropriate food pairings. Score 15/Very Good.
From the south of France is a wine made from two rather uncommon grapes: Terret and Vermentino.
Terret is an ancient variety most likely native to the south.
Its main feature is its good acidity which is often a useful addition to southern blends.
It is, indeed, mostly used in blends, most notably as one of the allowed varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Vermentino is apparently native to Italy where it is grown mainly in Liguria (the Italian Mediterranean coast adjacent to France) and Piemonte, just to the north.
It is widely grown in southern France, and is an important white wine grape in Corsica and Sardinia.
It produces an aromatic wine with descriptions including mineral, fresh herbs, floral and anise in its profile.
The Chapoutier Marius Terret/Vermentino 2011 (NLC $17.79, on sale for $16.79) first shows the anise/herbal characteristics of the Vermentino followed by an abundant nose of stone fruits.
Good acidity and medium body suggest this wine deserves to be matched with something light but flavourful — perhaps featuring herbs such as basil, mint, parsley or tarragon. Score: 15/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at email@example.com